PhD, Senior Advisor
Preventative healthcare is one of the most important measures we can take in order to reverse the crisis threatening Swedish healthcare. A completely new method is about to be tested, which may prevent people in high risk groups from contracting type 2 diabetes.
News reports on Swedish healthcare often paint an all too gloomy picture of long queues and staff on the verge of collapse; however, there is a hopeful side as well, in which digitalisation and technological innovations can be used to improve and streamline care. In other words, in the long-run this crisis is solvable.
"Yes, absolutely, what other alternative do we have? Quite simply, we must do something about the problem,” says Krim Talia, previously business area manager for Health and Life Science and now senior advisor at RISE.
Krim explains that the underlying issues behind the healthcare crisis include an aging population and a dramatic increase in chronic lifestyle-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
“This has led to increasing healthcare costs without a commensurate rise in taxable income. The result has been an enormous increase in costs in relation to available financial resources,” says Krim Talia, who continues:
“Approximately 9% of Sweden’s GNP goes to healthcare, most of which is used to treat already sick patients, with only a few percent being invested in diagnostics or preventative healthcare. More resources should be poured into disease prevention but it is also important to identify working methods based on existing resources.”
One vital healthcare initiative is to work preventatively, which is why RISE is working together with regional health authorities on the field of preventative healthcare. One new model currently being tested is the social impact bond (SIB). This is a revolutionary way to finance welfare services that turns the accepted wisdom – that welfare and the public sector go hand in hand – on its head, by inviting private investment into the welfare industry. The model involves the public sector, for example a municipality, defining a problem to be solved, whereupon a private investor finances a project and shoulders responsibility for getting the job done. If the project results in better social outcomes, the municipality will pass on part of the savings achieved to the investor; if not, the investor will be left empty handed. RISE is now looking into using this model to prevent type 2 diabetes.
“Type 2 diabetes is largely preventable, with 80% of cases being lifestyle related. This method will allow us to place a value on the problem, something that will lead to more stringent work instead of various projects based on ‘gut feeling’. There is a clear goal to be reached,” explains Krim Talia, who believes that the method can make a long-term contribution to preventing new cases.
Another area of focus for RISE is cell and gene therapy. In brief, this involves either removing cells, modifying them and replacing them in the body or, alternatively, sending an active substance into the body that will affect the cells in situ. Thanks to cell and gene therapy, previously incurable diseases are now treatable.
"RISE is attempting to improve the infrastructure in this field so that it will be easier for pharmaceutical companies to scale up from the laboratory. With the aid of Vinnova, we have started a centre for cell and gene therapy with the goal of improving and streamlining the work of companies,” explains Krim Talia.
Given that healthcare resources are currently so stretched, streamlining is another important healthcare measure, one for which we can enlist the aid of digitalisation.
“I don’t believe that we can solve the healthcare crisis by allowing politicians to invest millions upon millions of kronor while healthcare remains fundamentally ineffective. One example is that medical journal systems should be able to communicate with one another. This provides more efficient care and allows resources and staff to be freed up for other work,” says Krim Talia, who also points out the importance of an attractive work environment.
"It makes no sense to invest money and resources and educate healthcare professionals if nobody actually wants to work in healthcare:” He goes on:
“Today, healthcare staff can be ordered to work overtime or take nightshifts just to keep the organisation on its feet. But what kind of work climate are we creating by ordering staff to do this? There is scarcely any other organisation that would accept their staff being treated in this manner.”
Despite the negative spiral that Swedish healthcare appears to be trapped in, Krim Talia does see a glimmer of light that might easily be missed or forgotten.
"A recent report on the quality of the care itself showed that Sweden is actually ranked top; when we actually do receive medical care, it is excellent! Personally, I’m hopeful and I believe that RISE is doing a great job – we are ambitious and we’re doing the right things that we believe will make a real difference for tomorrow’s healthcare!”
In this business area, RISE works with four focus areas: eHealth, Infection Control, New Therapies and Prevention. eHealth explores and develops the application possibilities afforded by digitalisation in healthcare, in everything from technical medical products such as smart bandages, to assisting municipalities and regional health authorities with digitalising their administrative organisations. The focus area Prevention brings together healthcare stakeholders with the aim of preventing disease and mental ill-health, both through knowledge dissemination and new working methods. Researchers working in Infection Control develop new drugs, services and systems aimed at combating the spread of resistant bacteria and reducing the use of antibiotics. New Therapies focuses on fields such as advanced therapy medicinal products (ATMPs), biopharmaceuticals and precision medicine.